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Matt Giannetti: No Longer An Anonymous Cash Game Grinder

Giannetti Parlays WSOP Main Event Final Table Finish Into Two WPT Titles

by Julio Rodriguez |  Published: Jul 01, 2013

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For over five years, Matt Giannetti battled with his anonymity in the poker world. Sure, his peers were more than aware of his cash game prowess, but tournament success, and the notoriety that accompanies it, did not come easy.

Giannetti traveled the tournament circuit, competing in big buy-in main events, only to fall short time and time again and be relegated to the side games. His family tried to stay supportive of his decision to leave college for a poker career, but it was hard to believe Giannetti was paying the bills after seeing him suffer through a number of close calls.

In 2011, things finally clicked for the Worchester, Massachusetts-born poker pro when he became a member of the World Series of Poker main event November Nine. His fourth-place finish earned him $3,012,700. Since then, the 28-year-old has earned two World Poker Tour titles and now has lifetime tournament earnings totaling more than $4.2 million.
This is his story.

Leaving School To Play Poker

Giannetti already had a good idea about where he wanted to go to college having lived all over the United States during his youth. Born in Massachusetts, his family moved him to Texas and California before settling in New York for high school.

After graduation, Giannetti decided to attend the University of Texas to study computer engineering. He discovered poker during his first semester, playing in some small-stakes home games with other students. He became obsessed, and soon, the weekly home game wasn’t enough.

“I had just started playing online poker during my second semester of college,” Giannetti recalled. “A friend transferred me $40 and I got really into it. I started with .10-.25 cent no-limit and started winning almost immediately. Within a month, I had already jumped into the $3-$6 no-limit games, which were the highest games on the site at the time.”

Giannetti spent almost all of his free time during his sophomore year playing online poker. His grades hadn’t suffered too much, but it was clear that his heart wasn’t in school anymore.

“I didn’t want to go half-assed with school or poker,” he admitted. “I decided to approach my dad about taking some time off in order to try poker full time. That summer, I made a deal with my dad. I told him that I was making really good money and that instead of getting a summer job, I wanted to try and make even more money by playing full time. My family is really high on the importance of education, but he agreed to be okay with my decision if I could show him good results. I set a target for a pretty high figure per week and easily achieved it, so I never enrolled in classes the following fall.”

Overcoming The Stigma Of A Poker Career

Giannetti had already put together a six-figure bankroll, and he hadn’t even turned 21 yet. His immediate family knew he had dropped out of college, but they weren’t quite ready to tell the rest of his relatives about his decision.

“I was doing well, but we kind of kept it a secret that I had left school to play poker,” Giannetti said. “It was just easier than explaining the truth.”

Eager to join the tournament circuit and make a name for himself in order to legitimize his chosen career, Giannetti played live events in London and Aruba with little success. After his birthday, he began traveling with the WPT circuit, but couldn’t quite close in on a major score. Still, the money he was able to earn in the side games was more than enough to keep growing his bankroll.

Giannetti gained a little publicity for winning $15,000 in a prop bet that forced him to remain neck-deep in a Turks and Caicos swimming pool for 24 hours, but even that came with a blow to his ego.

“I decided to try it because there weren’t any cash games running,” he remembered. “After I won the bet and came out of the pool, the WPT hostess interviewed me. She didn’t even recognize me as a poker player. She was under the impression that I was just some bored tourist on the island, which of course gave my poker friends plenty of ammo for jokes at my expense.”

A few years passed and his tournament disappointment continued to mount. It all came to a head after a bad beat in a WPT main event at Foxwoods ended a deep run rather abruptly. A visibly upset Giannetti smashed his headphones to pieces on the poker table before storming out of the tournament room.

“It was a very frustrating time in my career,” he admitted. “My family is incredibly supportive, but they worry and they weren’t about to believe that I was doing well playing poker just because I said so. I could’ve been the biggest winner in those cash games, but I wasn’t on television, so I don’t think it clicked with anyone that there was success outside of the tournament world. If you look at my early results, you’ll see a lot of deep runs where I flamed out. That tournament at Foxwoods was just the culmination of years of frustration. I guess you could say that I was fed up.”

Turning It All Around

Giannetti recorded a small cash at the start of the 2011 World Series of Poker and then spent the rest of the series focusing on cash games. Unfortunately, what was once a consistent source of income betrayed him that summer.

“I spent 15 hours a day, every day, playing in a pot-limit Omaha game during that summer. I think I lost almost every single day. It wasn’t a huge amount, but it was consistent and I wasn’t able to play my way out of it. Things weren’t going well and I was pretty miserable. To be perfectly honest, my main event run couldn’t have come at a better time. I was as low as I had ever been in my career.”

Giannetti navigated his way through a field of 6,865 en route to a fourth-place finish in the biggest tournament of the year. Though he says he didn’t run very well while at the final table, he didn’t regret any of his play and was happy with his $3,012,700 payday. So were the other players who benefited by believing in his abilities enough to help him put together his $10,000 buy-in.

Perhaps more importantly, Giannetti was finally able to call his family back home and show them that all of his hard work had paid off.

“That was really big for me. Obviously the money was amazing, but just being able to get that far and know that I had finally put it all together was the best feeling in the world. I had my friends and family in my corner and for the first time in my career, I felt like I was being recognized as legitimate poker pro.”

Since then, Giannetti has only done more to legitimize his skills on the felt. During his layoff between the main event and the final table, Giannetti was able to earn his first live tournament title, winning the WPT Malta main event for $276,457. In 2012, he finished seventh in a $5,000 preliminary event at the WSOP for another $112,725. Most recently, he took down the 2013 WPT Lucky Hearts Open in Hollywood, Florida for his second title and a first-place prize of $323,804.

When asked what he credited to his tournament turnaround, Giannetti admitted that his original mistake was treating tournaments just like cash games. Since then, he’s dedicated himself to refining his play.

“I have a new outlook on tournaments. It’s a new understanding, actually. I think before, I was treating each entry like a lottery ticket. These days, I’m way more locked in to the nuances of the game and the differences between tournaments and cash games.”
Moving Forward

These days, Giannetti is happier than ever. After living in Las Vegas, Nevada, he moved with his girlfriend Joy to Miami, Florida last year for the better cash games, as well as a change in scenery. Recently, the couple celebrated the birth of Giannetti’s first child, a boy named Enzo.

“I’m really happy with how my career has progressed in the last few years. It was a struggle for a bit there, but now I’m where I envisioned being when I started. My relatives are proud of me and are always asking me when my next tournament is. When I’m not playing, I get to come home to my family. Things are great and I plan on it staying that way for the rest of my career.”

Giannetti Explains The Adjustments He Made To His Tournament Game

After years of dominating in the cash games, Matt Giannetti struggled to make the proper transition to live tournaments. Here, he provides a look at some of the concepts he learned that bridged the gap between his cash game and tournament play.

“In cash games, the stacks are pretty much always deep. If a player gets short, they reload. But in a tournament, there are many things you can do to take advantage of a short stack. If a player opens for a raise with a stack of about 25 big blinds, then there is a lot of equity to be earned by three-betting him, because it implies that his tournament life will be at stake and he’ll be less likely to call.

“It’s also beneficial to know just how much your short stack will hurt an opposing player. I might come in for a standard raise with a stack of only 15 big blinds if the players on my left are deep, but if my opponent knows that my stack will severely hurt his stack of 40 big blinds or less, I’ll just open shove instead. It’s very important to always be aware of the stack sizes of the players left to act.

“Another concept that I understand better now is the value of your tournament life. Many players, especially online tournament players, get too caught up in making the proper play to maximize their expected value, every play. I prefer a lower variance approach.
“Let’s say you are dealt pocket nines with a stack of about 25 big blinds and the button raises. Your normal play might be to make a small three-bet, but I might shove instead. The reason for that is because if I’m going to three-bet and call off the rest of my stack anyway, then I’d rather put it in myself with some fold equity. Too often, I see players make a three-bet in that spot, induce an aggressive player to move all-in and then be forced to flip against a hand like Q-J or K-Q, which would have easily folded to a shove instead.

“From the outside looking in, it might seem like a big overbet. The key is hand reading ability. If I’m confident enough to go with my hand after a four-bet, then why not go with it earlier and avoid a situation where I can be eliminated from the tournament.

“Tournaments are all about waiting for the right situations to arise, rather than waiting for the right hand to arrive. Most of the pots you win will be without a showdown, so start changing your mindset so you are looking for spots rather than specific hands.” ♠